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Josh Wolk's Pop Culture Club talks 'Zombieland': Did it have enough brains?

zombieland-woody_l

zombieland-woody_lWelcome back to the Pop Culture Club, and before we begin, I should alert any newcomers that as this “Club” has all ostensibly seen Zombieland, there will be spoilers galore that will ruin your enjoyment of the movie should you choose to see it later. (That, by the way, was the longest possible way to say “spoiler alert.”)

I should start by saying that I work with many diehard zombiephiles. The kind who know every George A. Romero movie, and, after reading this post’s headline, are now itching to give an irritated lecture about how zombies don’t actually eat brains…as if accepting the walking undead is perfectly logical, but brain-eating isn’t. I went to see this movie with EW’s Dalton Ross, and when we walked out, I said, “I’m just checking: Was 28 Days Later the first movie where zombies sprinted instead of staggered?” And he replied, “That’s actually a controversial question…” and gave me his PhD dissertation on how he strongly believes that staggering is the only true way for a zombie to perambulate. Yes or no, Ross!

I, however, am not a zombie know-it-all. I’ve dabbled in zombie 101: saw 28 Days Later (freaked me out), the remake of Dawn of the Dead (freaked me out more), Shaun of the Dead (ha!), and read World War Z (the fake oral history of the great zombie war, a fascinating bit of wildly organized imagination). But – heresy upon heresy – I don’t think I’ve seen any of Romero’s movies. In other words, I’m a casual zombieist; I mention this to point out that I didn’t come to this movie as a purist who demanded that attention should be paid to the rich tradition of blood-dripping mouths.

Now, I’d give Zombieland a B, and to explain why, here were its pros and cons:

PRO: Snappy dialogue that was funny and winky without mocking the zombie premise. A lot of subtly delivered lines (“You almost knocked over your alcohol with your knife”; “This is so exciting, you’re about to learn who you’re gonna call: Ghostbusters”) that seemed airlifted in from a Judd Apatow movie.

CON: The script suffered from the overschematic disorder I call “redemption for everybody!” syndrome. (Or REDFEV, as it’s known in my own head.) I’ve discussed this before: it’s when a movie methodically parcels out the characters’ fears and hopes through the movie, only so, in the climax, they can confront/overcome/realize each of them, one at a time. Jesse Eisenberg’s Columbus wants to brush a girl’s hair behind her ear (done!), Woody Harrelson’s Tallahassee wants a Twinkie (look, there’s one!), and Columbus is scared of clowns (jeez, what’s hackier than a fear of clowns? Oh, never mind – there’s one, go kill him!).

PRO: Great cast. I’ll try to put aside my Cheers fetish to objectively say OH WOODY HARRELSON, YOU CAN DO NO WRONG! Whoops, guess I didn’t put it away after all. But what an interesting career: few sitcom actors have so aggressively and wickedly shucked off their TV persona. From White Man Can’t Jump to Natural Born Killers to The People vs. Larry Flynt, it’s all been a merry wallow in misanthropy, whether of the self-centered or sociopathic variety. Now when I look at him I can’t imagine how I could possibly have bought him as an aw-shucks dope. Granted, there was that time Woody turned into a vicious snob after he and Kelly traveled to Europe but…whoops, sorry, enough Cheers. Anyway, I also liked Eisenberg, although I don’t buy his hype as the “multi-dimensional Michael Cera”; he’s had the same meek-but-clever nerd persona in everything I’ve seen him in, even if it’s not quite as mannered as Cera’s shtick.

CON: Logic lapses. As I mentioned above, I know it’s crazy to demand logic in a zombie movie, but you gotta give me something. That’s my deal with all fantasy blockbusters: I will suspend my disbelief as long as you don’t take advantage of it. Wouldn’t an amusement park (let alone one at night) be the worst place to go to keep away from zombies? Why not go play in a spotlight factory? And really, Wichita, you thought strapping yourself into a ride on top of easily scalable girders was a good escape route? And Columbus: if you had an entire bag of automatic weapons to choose from, why would you opt for a double-barreled shotgun as your firearm of choice? What, there were no muskets available? Again, these may seem petty, but if my brain had a second to process these disconnects, then it meant that the movie wasn’t working hard enough to keep me in its absurd world.

PRO: Bill Murray. It’s been too long since we’ve seen Murray’s comic, faux-smarmy persona – he’s been all minimalist as of late. Granted, the Hollywood digression was a little too self-aware for my taste, but how can you argue with Bill Murray doing comedy again? That side of him has been dormant since, what, Charlie’s Angels? As a man raised on his Stripes and Caddyshack monologues, I ask – nay , demand! – him to bring it back!

So what did you all think of Zombieland? Any zombie purists like Dalton Ross out there who want to discuss the finer points of the walking undead? Did you think it worked better as an action film, a comedy, both, or neither? And also, were you surprised by the Bill Murray cameo? I’d had it spoiled for me, but I’m wondering if was a real kick in the head if you didn’t see it coming.

Okay, before we go, here’s the assignment for next week, and we’re going back to TV. Seeing old-school Bill Murray got me thinking of Joel McHale, who, in Community, is playing the new-school version of old-school Bill Murray. So let’s check out Community: quick turnaround time here, as it’s on NBC tonight at 8 (or you can always catch it on Hulu).

All right, back to Zombieland!

PHOTO CREDIT: Glen Wilson

Originally posted October 8 2009 — 10:30 AM EDT

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